KENYA - part 2

By muriel bartol


...continued from part 1

As we headed deeper into the Maasai Mara National Reserve, we soon came upon something exciting. We weren't exactly sure what it was but there were about 30 vehicles all standing around looking at something, but we didn't have binoculars (d'oh!!!) so we couldn't tell exactly what.

Our guess is that it was a pair of cheetahs hunting. There was a herd of antelope running with the haste we had seen in NatGeo footage before, away from the two fast-moving dots we could kind of sort of make out, and since reserve rules stipulate that you cannot get closer than 50 meters of an animal that is hunting (25 meters otherwise) and all the vehicles were further away than usual, we figured that is what it was. Exciting!

When it was clear we would not see much else, we went on our way to explore the more remote SE region of the park to see what we could find.

We came across another family of elephants on the flats of the savanna. 

elephant family

After driving around a bit more, peeing out the door of the truck (park rules stipulate you cannot get out of the vehicle unless you are in a designated "safe picnic zone" under a tree (which we never found) so this seemed the best option) we noticed our reserve tank was a bit low and thought we should top off our so we headed towards the nearest gate to fuel up. As it happened, we saw a NatGeo filming truck at the gate, which amused us greatly. trucks in the wild!

NatGeo truck in the wild

We learned at the gate that the closest diesel station was not in the town outside the park like we imagined, but at the Sarova Mara Camp, one of the high-end game camps inside the Reserve, so we headed back in. 

As we continued driving along the washboard road, taking in the beauty of the park, we heard a very odd and very loud "pinggg!" and soon noticed that the brake pedal started losing pressure. We were quickly losing braking power with each pump of the pedal. The pedal soon was at the floor. Increasingly terrified we continued to the camp, up and down (!) sandy and rutted roads. We knew we were not far, but were not exactly sure just how far we still had to go. We had almost completely lost all breaking power. We realized that we were in dire need of break fluid, and probably a good mechanic. Every new slight downhill grade was less and less controlled. We were not sure what we would do if we encountered a real downgrade. We thought of the segment of Grand Tour where they skied down a mountain in Jaguars, except it never came together for us.

Even in our panicked state we both spotted a dung beetle pushing a 3" - 4" ball of dung across the road. We had to laugh at the perfectly smooth ball of dung making its way across the road. Since slowing down to inspect more closely wasn't an option, we didn't get a picture of it, but here is one we found on the Smithsonian site that looked just like what we saw:

photo of a dung beetle

Thankfully we soon arrived at the gates of the camp, the perfectly manicured grounds and friendly and well-trained staff inviting us into its luxurious embrace. At the gas station we were informed they had a mechanic station at the camp, and so we made our way into the back end of the camp, where guests rarely venture, into the inner workings of an efficient and well-run hotel.

We immediately took a liking to Pius, the mechanic on hand, as he took a look under the truck and informed us of our predicament; the bracket holding the brake line had snapped, allowing the line to flail about and so had pinched itself and sprung a leak and now our brake fluid was spraying out with every tap of the brake pedal. We had in fact lost almost all our brake fluid in those few harrowing miles. It would be an easy fix but he would have to go to the other shop to make a makeshift bracket and then would weld the line shut. We would only have brake power to 3 of our 4 wheels, and our braking power would not be consistent or aligned, but it was better than losing braking power to all 4 wheels!

While Pius was working to get us up and running, we headed to the restaurant for a delicious lunch, thankful that we had found a trustworthy and knowledgeable person to help us. Feeling like intruders, in our very dusty clothes, unshowered, in this very expensive hotel, we went up to the hostess and quietly explained we were not guest. "Hakuna matata!" she exclaimed, "No problem!". We were a bit incredulous we had actually learned something from a Disney movie, but here we were.

We were seated in the restaurant veranda, the lush grounds around us, enjoying the relaxed quiet of the hotel, the sun warming us, the staff making sure we had a pleasant dining experience. We were the first to arrive for lunch so we had all the attention of the staff. Robert came up and introduced himself, and we regaled him with our tales of mechanical failure.

After a filling lunch we retired to the veranda to kill a bit of time, and and while lounging in the sun, connected to the high-speed WiFi, we noticed a large family of meerkats banded mongoose (thanks Steve!) genially flitting, running, and jumping across the lawn, grabbing grubs for lunch, and generally being charming little critters.

After what we estimated sufficient time for Pius to fix the car, we headed back into the bowels of the camp, past the laundry, dining area for the drivers, the camp trucks, and on to the mechanic's station.

Pius wasn't quite done, so we looked around a little, fell in love with an old staff transport vehicle slowly disintegrating, wondering if we could somehow bring it home and bring it back to life.

Soon enough Pius was done fixing the brake line, and we headed back out to the savanna in the late afternoon.

With the sun starting to hang into the horizon, we realized we had to get out of the reserve before the 5pm curfew. We raced toward the nearest gate, armed with the name and GPS location of the camp we had picked out to stay the night, and made it through the gates with a few minutes to spare. We stopped at a bar and picked up a couple of warm beers, apparently how Kenyans prefer them (why tho?) and headed out to find where we would spend the night.

Continue to Part 3...